The Ted Kennedy I knew
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican, is the senior senator from Utah. This piece first appeared on Politico.
People called us the “odd couple,” which was certainly true. There are few men with whom I had less in common. Ted was born to a famous patrician family of Boston. He attended private schools and Harvard University. He was politically liberal, and liberal in his lifestyle – at least until he married Vicki Reggie, who set him straight. I grew up in a poor, working class family in Pittsburgh. Where Ted was the affable Irishman, I was the teetotaling Mormon missionary.
We did not agree on much, and more often than not, I was trying to derail whatever big government scheme he had just concocted. And, in those years that Republicans held the majority in the Senate, when it came to getting some of our ideas passed into law, he was not just a stone in the road, he was a boulder.
Disagreements over policy, however, were never personal with Ted. I recall a debate over increasing the minimum wage. Ted had launched into one of his patented histrionic speeches, the kind where he flailed his arms and got red in the face, spewing all sorts of red meat liberal rhetoric. When he finished, he stepped over to the minority side of the Senate chamber, put his arm around my shoulder, and said with a laugh and a grin, “How was that, Orrin?”
We did manage to forge partnerships on key legislation, such as the Ryan White AIDS Care Act, State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and most recently, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Ted was a lion among liberals, but he was also a constructive and shrewd lawmaker. He never lost sight of the big picture and was willing to compromise on certain provisions in order to move forward on issues he believed important. And, perhaps most importantly, he always kept his word. When our carefully balanced compromise legislation came to the Senate floor, Ted often had to lead the opposition to amendments offered by Democratic colleagues that he would rather have supported. But, he took the integrity of our agreement seriously and protected the negotiated package.
And, when my mother and father died – times of deep sorrow for me – Ted Kennedy was there with the right words and sincere sympathy. Ted was a man experienced in facing tragedy, having grieved more than his share, and yet became stronger for it. He and Vicki flew to Utah to attend my mother’s funeral, a gesture that will always mean a great deal to me.
We can all take a lesson from Ted’s 47 years of service and accomplishment. I hope that America’s ideological opposites in Congress, on the airwaves, in cyberspace, and in the public square will learn that being faithful to a political party or a philosophical view does not preclude civility, or even friendships, with those on the other side.
When reflecting on my dear friend’s life, my thoughts continue to turn to the future of this great nation. With the loss of such a liberal legislative powerhouse who spoke with conviction for his side of the aisle but who was always willing to look at an issue and find a way to negotiate a bipartisan deal, I fear that Washington has become too bitterly partisan. I hope that Americans in general and Washington politicians in particular will take a lesson from Ted’s life and realize that we must aggressively advocate for our positions but realize that in the end, we have to put aside political pandering, work together and do what is best for America.
Personally, I mourn the loss of my dear friend Ted Kennedy. I will miss sparring with him over policy, his unparalleled skills as a legislator, his wonderful sense of humor, and his generous nature. And Americans from all points on the political spectrum can surely admire the example of a United States senator who was dedicated to the last to advancing the vision of America that he held so dearly.
(c) Capitol News Company, LLC 2009
Sen. Hatch, a prolific songwriter, composed a tribute to his friend Sen. Kennedy, which is available on YouTube and can be seen below.